Friday, February 29, 2008

Nursing Home Justice

Cross-posted from Illinois Deserves the Truth

With all of the recent talk around nursing homes in recent months (us included here, here)- much of it to do with the acquisition of Manor Care by the Carlyle Group and the quality of care loss that usually follows this type of business deal - it's a great thing to see that the Illinois House is looking at a bill (HB 5213) to help protect nursing home victims and hold nursing homes accountable for their wrongful actions.

In a nut shell, HB 5213 would require Illinois nursing homes to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance. Bruce Kohen, President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, states that 20 percent of nursing homes go without any liability insurance at all. (Yikes, if I had to entrust the care of myself or a loved one to a nursing home, I would like to know if they carried liability insurance or not. I honestly assumed that they had to.) To add on to this shocking tidbit, as told in the NY Times article, many nursing homes add complex layers of corporate structure to insulate the money makers from being held accountable of wrongdoing. Because of this many victims have no way of getting redress from courts when they are injured.

Kudos to Representatives David E. Miller, Greg Harris and Mary E. Flowers for sponsoring this important legislation.


County Insider John Daley Threatens Tony Peraica

Apparently Tony Peraica has a account. And he uploaded the story about his Cook County Board meeting. I don't know when this story aired on CBS2Chicago, but it was a really interesting soundbite between Tony Peraica and his colleague John Daley. Daley in addition to being a Cook County Commissioner is also the 11th Ward Committeeman. So Peraica probably shouldn't take this too lightly. Although I have to admit if this was anywhere else in the nation Peraica could win it based off of this soundbite alone.


An Insult to Drunken Sailors

As the state’s deficit continues to expand exponentially under Gov. Rod Blagojevich he now adds insult to injury. Wednesday he announced that the state will demolish Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University and replace it with a new building to be named Memorial Hall in honor of the students slain there in the shooting spree on Valentine’s Day this year. Though somewhat dated, nothing is reported to be wrong with Cole Hall other than that it was the site of a great tragedy.

The governor’s office did not initiate this proposal. It was developed by university officials and presented to him. It was like taking the opener to a can of tuna with a cat in the house. The governor gave it his immediate and full attention. He even took a little time off from proposing health care and transit plans he can’t pay for to glom onto this one. You have to give university officials some credit: they may not be particularly concerned with holding tuition costs down, but they sure know how to get the attention of their prime funding source. I wonder how enthused those officials would be for the plan if the money to pay for it had to be deducted from the other funds the state gives them each year. Oops, they might still be quite enthused – just pass it on in tuition increases. What a fitting way to memorialize the slain students; by making it more difficult for new students to afford college at all.

The site of tragedies are always sorrowfully evocative, even painfully so in the near aftermath. In each life there are places where a blow was suffered. We rarely visit them until time, that great palliative, has deadened the pain. But if we begin to go to the huge expense of tearing down sites of transient sorrow and rebuilding, we honor the dead by denying the living. It’s a bad plan and once begun, there will be no end of it.

Meantime the governor’s office has ceased to even bother to try to explain to the legislature how it is going to get the money to pay for Blagojevich’s grandiose schemes. The day before he announced that he would tear down the old and build the new at NIU, representatives of his office had no answer save, “Trust us,” when asked by a legislative committee how they were to get the money to pay for his health care expansion plan. This from a man who is making former Gov. George Ryan look like an archetype of fiscal fidelity.

Illinois does not pay Medicaid bills on time. There is sometimes a six month to a year lag in payments. Some pharmacies in the state ceased to accept Medicaid a few years ago, fearing that it was either that or go out of business. When a state pays its existing obligations by writing IOUs to medical professionals, throwing more IOUs around is not going to improve health care. It is going to reduce the number of medical professionals who will accept patients relying on the state to pay. Their refusal will not be from a lack of compassion, but from a need to survive.

Seniors in Chicago will soon be getting free rides on mass transit, thanks to the governor. And that plan guarantees that the transit funding crisis we dodged this year will be back in a few years. Call it “Son of Mass Transit Funding Crisis – Even Bigger and Scarier than before.”

We are routinely trying to sell the state’s assets; the Thompson Building, the toll roads, the lottery, not to pay for the governor’s plans, but to slow the growth of the exploding deficit. In his entire tenure Blagojevich has behaved like a reckless teenager given his parents’ credit card. Sooner or later, mom and dad will discover he has rung up some multiple of their annual income. We are all mom and dad here. If he keeps merrily charging away the time will come when we have to suffer truly draconian cuts just to pay for his public relations spending spree.

Won’t somebody cut up this governor’s credit card?

Cross-posted on Illinois Review


Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Choice in the 11th Could Boost All GOP Fortunes

In the classic movie, Jaws, while tossing chum out the back of a boat, Police Chief Brody catches his first sight of the monstrous size of the killer shark he and his two companions are hunting. Shrinking back in terror, he turns to Captain Quint and, in bewildered horror, says, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” One suspects that New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann had much the same feeling as he realized just what was involved in running a competitive race for Congress these days.

After winning the Republican nomination to fill the open seat in Illinois 11th District, left by retiring Congressman Jerry Weller, Baldermann dropped out of the race last week. He cited the press of current obligations, including raising five children, serving as Mayor of New Lenox, and police chief of Chicago Ridge. Republican leaders are scrambling to come up with a replacement to face the popular and well-known Democrat, State Sen. Debbie Halvorson. National Democrats had already targeted the district as one of their best pick-up opportunities in the country. This blow is seen by many as emblematic of a coming Republican rout. Yet as disheartening as it seems at first glance it may actually enhance the chances of Republicans not only to hold the 11th, but in other Illinois districts as well.

By the account of all Republican leaders in the district, Baldermann is an estimable man of much accomplishment. The problem was he had little district-wide name recognition and less money going into a battle with a very well-known opponent. What he had going for him initially was that he was from Will County, which dominates the district. In the scramble now to replace him, residence in Will County is not going to be the prime asset it was earlier. Party leaders have to find someone who has the best means (name recognition, money, resume) of defending this seat. The truth is, privately Democrats had already counted this seat as won and Republicans were privately conceding it lost.

Some are touting State Rep. Rene Kozol as the best candidate. She is, after all, from Will County and has served 11 years in the state legislature. But again, she lacks the district-wide name recognition and the ability to put significant money of her own into the race. For Republicans this cycle it is optimal to have both – and critical to have at least one. Two other potential candidates have at least one of the components, though neither resides in Will County.

State Sen. Christine Radogno is fresh off a very credible run for State Treasurer in a very bad year. She and State Sen. Dan Rutherford (who ran for Secretary of State) were the two brightest spots for the GOP on the state ticket in that dismal cycle. She starts with great name recognition and a large fundraising base (besides her statewide run, her daughter served as scheduler to Weller). She is a moderate Republican who works to build bridges rather than trade insults with the conservative base of her party. In a normal year she would be the perfect candidate for this swing district. Despite long being held by Republicans, it is a swing district.
But this year, when Democrats are feeling their oats and all Illinois Republicans must prepare for what is likely to be a heavy Obama-surge of Democrats at the polls, sending a moderate Republican woman against a liberal Democratic woman may not be the best strategy. She is unlikely to pull enough moderate voters off the Democrat to tip the balance. She would need to excite the conservative Republican base to offset the advantages Halvorson starts with. Still, she starts with far more resources than Baldermann had.

Another potential candidate, though he does not live in the district, is State Sen. Chris Lauzen. He just came off the losing end of a bitter primary battle with Jim Oberweis for the Republican nomination to replace former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert in the 14th District. Calling it a primary battle doesn’t really do it justice. It was more akin to watching what would happen if you tossed two cats in a sack and tied it to a ceiling fan. Both men had been previously regarded as conservative champions. So the bitter infighting produced the ungainly spectacle of factions of the same faction bitterly denouncing each other, deeply dividing the base in the 14th District – and beyond. That bitterness was underscored by the initially ungracious behavior of Lauzen following his loss. So why even consider appointing a sore loser who helped divide the base? Practical politics, my friend.

Lauzen starts off with strong name recognition, even if it is not all positive, because of that high-profile race. He also carries some residual recognition from his race for Comptroller 10 years ago. From that race and the near proximity of his senate district to the 11th Lauzen would not start out a stranger to the district. He has some of his own money; not a lot, but some. He is a bona fide hero to most of the conservative base of the party. He would energize that base in the 11th District. In a cycle where moderates are most likely to go Democrat, that is an important asset. Once energized, he would deploy that base well, as he is one of the most gifted grass-roots politicians in the state.

Perhaps most importantly, naming Lauzen would give a real chance to heal the deep rifts in the Republican Party in the 14th and the 11th, allowing conservative partisans to quit fighting each other and get to the business of energetically fighting Democrats. The 14th is not the two-to-one bastion of Republicans that the media often make it out to be. But it is a good 58% baseline Republican District. The fallout from that ugly primary has made it suddenly competitive. Appointing Lauzen to the Republican nomination in the 11th could both make the 11th genuinely competitive and simultaneously deprive Democrats of a plausible chance for a ‘bonus’ pickup in the 14th. That scenario only holds if both Lauzen and Oberweis make a genuine and compelling show of unity with each other.

But either Lauzen or Radogno would make the 11th genuinely competitive, forcing Democrats to deploy resources and time there. That takes some pressure off the 14th and off of Congressman Mark Kirk’s seat in the 10th District. Democrats have been salivating; hoping things might get so bad they could even make a serious go again at Congressman Peter Roskam in the 6th District. As things stood a week ago, Democrats thought they were very likely to pick up two seats in Illinois; with a little break they could pick up three; and with strong prevailing winds, perhaps even pull off four.

If Republicans are shrewd in their selection in the 11th, they could utterly reverse those odds, taking Roskam’s seat out of serious Democratic calculations altogether. Both the 11th and the 10th become races on their own merits rather than potential casualties in a Democratic blitzkrieg and the 14th becomes much safer as a likely Republican hold.

In this case, Republican leaders in the 11th District are in the very unusual position of playing a huge role not only in who their candidate will be, but in how good Republican prospects in much of the rest of the state.

Cross-posted at Illinois Review


Tenure Tit-for-Tat

CapitolFax reports on the back-and-forth between reporter Scott Reeder and the Illinois Federation of Teachers today. I think its useful to cut through all of the tit-for-tat about bias and get down to the central facts and arguments being advanced by Reeder.

On that point, I've got to agree with Comerford on what seems to be the central fact of Reeder's story, as opposed to all of the he said, she said stuff.

If Reeder is only counting the number of firings that are appealed, but is reporting that as the number of firings, he's gotten the central fact in his story wrong.
Reeder could set the record straight be redoing his census and asking the school districts how many tenured teachers they fired who did not appeal, and that seems to be in order.

However, I have to say that even then Reeder's story misses the big picture. Whether tenured teachers in-and-of themselves are getting fired proves nothing. In fact, it might prove that waiting four years to give teacher tenure weeds out teachers who aren't up to the task. In order to complete the picture, Reeder should report how many non-tenured teachers leave their school before reaching tenure.

Another big hole in Reeder's argument as I see it is the underlying assumption that tenure -- and tenure alone -- is the problem. After all, the University of Illinois, University of Chicago, DePaul, Northwestern ALL have teacher tenure, and they're considered flagship educational institutions. Even though we're talking about higher education here, I still think its highly relevant, and the bias here in Reeder's reporting is that he focuses in only on evidence that supports his hypothesis and ignores evidence that completely discounts it.

In fact, "tenure", whether de jure or de facto, is all pervasive in American society. There was plenty of incompetence in Enron, but how many people were fired there? Every week we hear of lead toys finding their way onto Wal-Mart's shelves, but I certainly haven't heard of any firings. One could even argue that incumbent elected officials are the beneficiaries of tenure. If tenure is broken, all of America is broken, and I think you can have a great discussion on that issue. However, it does beg the question of why Reeder is so narrowly focused on teachers.

Finally, and perhaps this is the most important point. Even if you think that the tenure system is broken and is protecting thousands of bad teachers who need to be fired, Reeder never answers the "What then?" question. Illinois, like every other state in the nation, is facing a labor shortage when it comes to hiring teachers, just to fill the vacancies created by retirement and teachers moving to other professions or other states. If we fire thousands of teachers, who does Reeder propose we replace them with? Will he drop out of journalism, invest his time and money in getting his certification so that he can dedicate himself to teaching the hardest-to-reach kids in our urban centers and struggling rural communities? The question I always ask of those who are so quick to criticize teachers is "Why are you standing here on the sidelines throwing stones instead of putting yourself in the game?" I still haven't gotten a straight answer.


Public Official A

Crystal Laker Allan Showalter's Heck of a Guy blog has put the Tony Rezko trial in literary perspective. It's so good, I asked his permission to share it with you.

Here's the beginning.

Public Official A - A Comic Morality Play In The Illinois Style

Filed under: Local | By DrHGuy | February 28, 2008 at 8:31 am

Judge reveals Blagojevich is ‘Public Official A’
Rezko allegedly sought donations for governor

-Headline from February 26, 2008 Chicago Tribune

I guarantee you that the rest is worth reading.

Posted first on McHenry County Blog.


Great Leaps

Cross posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

Tomorrow is February 29th, that rare occasion when the shortest month of the year gets a little bit longer. Most of the time, Leap Years coincide with presidential elections and the Summer Olympics. They don't come every four years, exactly; centuries are not Leap Years, unless they're also divisible by 400, as 2000 was.

Even more rare than the Leap Year is the Bill With 47 Sponsors But No Hearing. HB 1 has been sitting in the Senate Rules Committee since last April. All but a dozen of the 59 members of the Senate have signed on as sponsors. That's more than enough to pass the bill; more than enough to override a veto; even enough to suspend the rules and move the bill directly to the floor. And yet, the bill sits in Rules, unheard, unvoted upon.

The Daily Herald ran a story talking with "Leapsters" or "Leaplings" about what it's like to have February 29th as their birthday. We feel like the 47 sponsors of HB 1 deserve some sympathy, too, for their unusual circumstance. So tomorrow, why not call them up and say you feel for them. Sometimes, it's lonely trying to do the right thing.

Also, according to some, February 29th doubles as Sadie Hawkins Day. On behalf of HB 1, why not take the initiative and ask the Senate President to dance?



Heh, the last line in this post from Newsalert, "The GOP really doesn't exist in Cook County." Surely that stings to somebody doesn't it? This could beg that question, Why did Republicans abdicate Cook County to the Democrats?

Anyway the gist of the post shows the legal problems of the soon to be outgoing Cook County GOP Chair Liz Gorman and her husband. And she herself is looking for a "puppet" so she can maintain her influence. Yeah I suppose there really isn't a GOP in Cook.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Look at the Latino Vote in the Illinois Presidential Primary

In the immediate aftermath of the February 5th primary some in the press noticed that Hillary Clinton ran particularly strong in some of the wards that had strong ward organizations with politically powerful leaders who had pledged to support Obama. This was explained due to the strength of the Clinton campaign among women and Latinos, a notion supported by this vote total by congressional district breakdown that shows that Clinton ran strong in Illinois' 4th congressional district which is represented by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a heavily Latino district.

I decided to try and gather some data to see if that proved out. Below is a table that shows all of the wards that had at least 30% Hispanic according to the 2000 census (data that is 8 years old). Additionally, I decided to see what percent of the turnout in these wards was female in 2004 and 2006 by adding up the totals from a voter file. While it's important to note that there is no margin of error on these two columns because this figure was determined from the entire universe instead of a sample, it is equally (if not more) important to note that just because the percentage of females among the turnout was some number in 2004 and/or 2006 it doesn't necessarily mean that the 2008 turnout had the same allocation. These numbers should only be used for reference purposes. Anyway, here's the table:

Ward% Hisp06Female04Female% Clinton% Obama

The 11th ward is the Daley home ward, the 13th is Speaker Madigan's ward, the 14th is Ald. Burke's ward, the 25th is the home ward of then-Clinton campaign manager Patty Solis Doyle and the 33rd is Ald. Mell's ward.

If anything, the numbers look inconsistent. I don't see any obvious explanation for how these wards turned out.

Any theories?


A Look Back at February 5th

I wanted to take a look back at some of the more intriguing outcomes from the vote totals in the February 5th primary results. One of the more remarkable outcomes, to me anyway, was the lack of support that Howard Brookins received in his race for the Democratic nomination for Cook County States Attorney in Chicago's predominantly African American wards.

There's a pretty consistent record of races where there was a single viable(1) African American candidate in a multi-candidate field where the African American candidate received consistently strong support from the community, with a notable exception of the mayoral candidates running against Richard Daley in recent cycles. However, Howard Brookins comes no where near those traditional numbers. Take a look at this table showing the Democratic primary results from Roland Burris in 1994, 1998 and 2002, plus Barack Obama in 2004 and John Stroger in 2006.

(1) In the 2004 Democratic primary for Senate, Joyce Washington, an African American candidate was also in the field, but was unable to get more than just a couple percentage points, therefore for our purposes being not viable.

Ward%AABrookinsStrogerObama 04Burris 02Burris 98Burris 94

Please note that the percentage African American comes from the 2000 census, so that data is eight years old, also the 1994 and 1998 Roland Burris results come before the remap that followed the 2000 census, so the demographics in those wards may not be exactly the same before and after redistricting, in particular the 18th ward was redrawn to include significantly more African Americans.

The difference is really striking. Brookins broke 50% only in wards 6, 8, 21 and 34. He is the incumbent Alderman in the 21st ward and yet he only took 61% in his own ward, at least 20 points below the performance of this peer group. I find this remarkable.

I'm not just surprised that Howard Brookins wasn't as strongly embraced by the community, I'm also surprised that it seemed to happen without those in the community having a preferred alternative. As you can see from this table, each of the other candidates was able to attract support in the community:

Ward%AAAllen AlvarezSuffredinMilanBrewer

The African American community has long maintained that they vote for who they each think is the best candidate regardless of race, gender, geography or other non-merit based characteristics. These vote totals make a strong case for that sentiment.

My question is, what was it about this election that produced such substantially different results relative to other recent Democratic primaries? Why was this election so different?

What role, if any, did the historic Presidential candidacy of Barack Obama have on this outcome?

How was this electorate affected by the endorsement of Larry Suffredin by Jesse Jackson Jr. and the strong labor support for Tom Allen?

In a year when national pundits have breathlessly professed to us a divide among the African American and Latino communities how do you explain the strong showing of Anita Alvarez in this community?

And what should we expect in future elections?

My theory: I honestly have no idea. Your thoughts?


The new "tax swap"

Senate President Emil Jones Jr.’s name appears on the list of sponsors of a version of a “tax swap” that would reform the way Illinois pays for public education. His support is a reversal from the Democratic leaders’ alliance with the governor last year but consistent with Jones’ stances in years before that. Support from the chamber leader is a big boost for Sen. James Meeks and Sen. John Cullerton’s measure, but the bill has two main hurdles: 1) Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s expected veto of anything that increases state income taxes and 2) the curse of gaming legislation, or getting so weighed down by trying to please everyone that the bill implodes and goes nowhere.

The measure advanced today from the Senate Education Committee, the first of many public hearings planned for this legislation before it’s ready for a vote by the full Senate.

Senate Bill 2288 is the new Senate Bill 750, but it has major differences. (Some are mapped out by Senate Democrats here. The main difference is that the new version would raise a lot more revenue — $7.2 billion — to do a whole lot more, funding a statewide infrastructure program and paying down state debt. Specifically, highlights include $633 million for early childhood and primary education, $300 million for higher education, $2.9 billion for property tax relief adjusted for inflation each year, $600 million for a family tax credit adjusted for inflation each year, $1 billion for a road and school construction plan and more than $1 billion for state pension and Medicaid debt.

“The goal of this bill is to pay off our debts,” Cullerton said in the committee hearing. He later added, “Not one penny is going to the operations of state government.”

Some Republicans in the committee found that hard to believe, but Cullerton said the sponsors eagerly seek input from the GOP and the House to codify better language. The sponsors still have the same list of supporters and opponents as 750. Most education and labor groups support it. Opponents include business groups and the Illinois Department of Revenue. (One school board in Chicago’s northwest suburbs of Palatine and Schaumburg opposed the property tax relief portion and said schools across the state can’t trust Illinois government to deliver, but those witnesses also said they supported many funding reform ideas in the legislation.)

The way the measure would raise the money is by increasing the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent and the corporate rate from 4.8 percent to 8 percent. It also could, although it doesn’t yet, take back $800 million from the portion of the state income tax revenue that local governments currently receive.

On the spending side, the measure lists general initiatives but doesn’t specify where the money would go. Also absent, so far, are “accountability” measures, or safeguards for how state and local governments spend the money as intended. That’s a necessary component for Democratic Sen. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest. She voted “present” in committee to symbolize her concerns. “There has to be oversight. It’s not going to happen with this magic wand. I could never support this, especially from my area, without some major, major reforms.”

Meeks said those reforms are going to be drafted after collecting ideas in a series of public hearings, which is particularly important when “nobody trusts us to do what we say we’re going to do.”

We’ll have more details as they unfold. In the meantime, it’s safe to say this version isn’t going to advance for a while, maybe months.

The governor’s response is, according to an e-mail from spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch: “The push for an income tax increase isn’t new in Springfield. The governor’s position hasn’t changed. He thinks we should cut taxes, not raise them — especially at a time when families are already dealing with higher gas bills, higher prices for goods and stagnant wages.”

Jones’ spokeswoman, Cindy Davidsmeyer, said the Senate president has said and continues to say that he will not call this type of controversial measure for a vote on the Senate floor unless it has enough votes to pass — that’s 30 to pass and 36 to override a governor’s veto. Considering all the work that needs to be done to complete the legislation and all the GOP recruiting that needs to happen before the measure has a veto-proof majority, it’s optimistic to think that the bill could be called for a vote before May 31, as Meeks would like.


Informed Polling and Getting it Right

Cross Posted from Fako & Associates' Political Polling Blog.

Every pollster will tell you that political polls are a snapshot in time and at best consecutive polls can elicit trends, but should not be used to predict turnout or the outcome of an election.

While the national attention is on how the pollsters got it wrong in several contests with surveys taken only days before an election, few are talking about how early surveying often-times gets things right. We've occasionally written about the importance of informed trial heats in some of our past posts.

To refresh, an informed trial heat is designed to simulate the effects of an engaged campaign, presenting balanced positive and negative messages about each candidate (or multiple candidates). The end result of the election scenario tells a campaign what is possible with their messages and themes they plan to implement. Most importantly, this section will determine if the core message works in direct contrast to the opponent(s)' message and can identify movement among the various demographic and attitudinal groups -- helping refine strategy.

F&A recently conducted a benchmark survey for a client running in a Democratic primary for open seat in a multi-candidate open-seat race. The benchmark poll was designed to evaluate the political environment, determine voter’s top issue concerns, examine opinions of the candidates and other significant figures, and test messages in support and in opposition of various candidates. As we always do in comprehensive benchmark polls, we included an informed trial heat question in the survey. The client was on a tight budget and didn't want to include "minor" candidates in the informed trial heat. After some debate, we were able to convince the client to include the "minor" candidates in the question.

We accounted for the ability of the "minor" candidates to get their message out given their budget constraints. Their messages were curtailed in the informed scenario to a simple bio-statement, while "major" candidates received bio, supporting, and opposing information, simulating an engaged campaign.

In our poll, the results of the informed trial heat were unexpected; a "minor" candidate took a 22 percentage point lead above the assumed frontrunner in the informed scenario, an increase of 25% above the candidate's level of support in the initial trial heat (the uninformed horse race question). A "major" candidate jumped up 7% and the assumed frontrunner stalled with a gain within the margin of error. Undecided voters in the initial trial heat heavily sided with one of the "minor" candidates. The percentage of undecided voters was reduced by over 40% in the informed trial heat. At this point we recognized the minor candidate's growth potential and advised the client to pay close attention to this so-called "minor" candidate. We noted that this individual clearly had the basic background and simple message that would break through the clutter of a highly engaged multi-candidate race, despite an initial perception of not being viable.

As the campaign progressed, the so called minor candidate ended up raising some serious money and gained significant earned media attention in addition to their own paid activities. It became apparent that this minor candidate was not minor, something our polling has observed only three months before the election

The "minor" candidate ended up winning this election, slightly ahead of the "major" candidate that we also observed gaining traction through the informed trial heat. This highlighted the usefulness and importance of utilizing informed trial heat questions in polls and why clients should never ignore perceived "minor" opponents. Polls that include an informed trial heat are one of the most useful strategic planning tools available to a campaign. It gives campaigns the information needed to determine if their message works (in the above example, out client’s message was not working); provides detailed strategic planning information, particularly at the demographic sub-group level, and gives campaigns information to prepare and adjust strategy for unanticipated situation (such as an unexpectedly strong opponent).


Update from Iraq

Take a break from what’s happening in Illinois — Public Official A, Democratic infighting, fiscal implosion — and think abroad. State Rep. Jim Watson, a Jacksonville Republican, reports to us from Iraq, where he’s expected to serve a nine-month tour of duty with the U.S. Marines. We received this e-mail from Ben Jackson in Watson’s legislative office:

Rep. Watson is currently stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps 3rd Civil Affairs Group in Fallujah, Iraq, working with local, tribal, and provincial governments. He is working long days reviewing local and provincial legislation, advising local officials, and assisting in the development of the modern Iraqi government. Tasks to date have included analyzing provincial powers laws (separation of powers) and assisting local government meetings and councils.

He is enjoying his work, and really feels that the Iraqi citizens want to succeed. He stated last week: “Governance is the key to victory, and I can personally attest that the Iraqis are working hard at implementing their own form of representative government.”

However, he is also able to communicate with his District on a regular basis. When he is not performing military duties, Rep. Watson is able to call into the office regularly, and we frequently correspond by e-mail regarding constituent issues, the budget, and his legislative agenda.

What’s in the bag? Watson said it held some of his gear. Jackson said Watson replied, “Hey, you have to work with what’s available around here!”


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Business Roundtable puts out excellent background material on the 2008 constitutional question

The Illinois Business Roundtable (a sort of Chamber of Commerce) released some really excellent research on the 2008 question as to whether we voters should exercise our option to improve our Constitution through calling a convention.

The full report is available from their website here.

Really great stuff on the previous three constitutions and the conventions that led to their successive replacements.

Their conclusion, however, is rather tepid, which is that they aren't interested in a convention. Their reasoning is that because the legislature could be solving big picture issues (like creating good schools in poor areas, or ending the reverse Robin Hood regressive taxes we impose, or modernizing our elections), we don't need to amend the constitution. We just need the legislature and the governor to get to work.

In my view there are structural deficiencies to state government (particularly the excessive authority vested in the Office of the Governor, regardless of who happens to hold the seat) that only a constitutional amendment can solve, and thus a convention is an excellent tool to get some amendments on the 2010 ballot.

But more to the point, the notion that simply because a convention isn't absolutely required due to a clearly deficient constitution, we ought to reject the opportunity that a convention provides to create another avenue to improving Illinois government is wrong-headed.

Any chance we get to improve Illinois government we ought to take.

Those chances don't come around very often.

And when we get a chance to change our government in fundamental ways -- to let the people be heard in another venue and a different context -- that's a chance we need to embrace.

It's the politics of hope over the politics of fear and cynicism.

The position of hope is to say yes, let us take this opportunity to make things better.

The position of cynicism and fear is to say no, it will never work or the special interests won't bend or, more fundamentally, we can't ever really change anyway. So just give up and give in.

We'll never get good schools for poor children in Illinois.

We'll never give more voice to regular people in our elections and in our legislature.

We'll never have the politics that is a model for the nation instead of a political liability for presidential candidates.

I reject that defeatist thinking.

I'm sorry the Roundtable embraces it.

And I hope the people of Illinois join the next President of the United States in saying yes, we can.

And voting yes for the chance to change.


Jonah Goldberg in Chicago Wednesday

I cannot make it, but National Review writer Jonah Goldberg, who is the author of the best-selling book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, will be in Chicago on Wednesday.

The event will be held at the Hunt Club, located at 1100 North State Street in Chicago. If you want to attend, please RSVP to Copies of Liberal Fascism will be available for purchase and Jonah will be signing books. Jonah will begin his book talk at 7:00 p.m, cocktails begin at 6:00pm.

I'm reading the book now, it'll change the way you think about politics--I guarantee it.

Thank America's Future Foundation for bringing Goldberg to Chicago.

H/T to Jake at the Freedom Folks for the information.


"My way"

I have Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” stuck in my head. It’s a reoccurring theme in the Statehouse, especially on days like today. Two House Democrats are trying to take a different route than the governor to expand state-sponsored health insurance to 147,000 adults. They’re using legislation, something Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to do last year but got nowhere. When that didn’t work, he tried using his administrative authority. He repeatedly got blocked there, too. It happened again this morning, but the administration is moving ahead, anyway, stating that it can afford the expansions and that it expects federal approval and matching funds to come through.

This morning, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan legislative panel that reviews executive rules, again rejected and suspended the Department of Healthcare and Family Service’s effort to expand a health insurance program to two groups of people: 1) up to 20,000 individuals making up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level who were covered under the State Children’s Health Care Program; and 2) a new group of 147,000 adults who make up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

Background resources: See the administration’s original proposal in the November 26, 2007, Illinois Register, and scroll down to No. 15854. You can read more about the governor’s attempt to expand health care in my February column of Illinois Issues magazine and in a November blog.

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and JCAR member, summed up his constitutional concerns and frustrations during the hearing. “Under what chutzpah do you come to this body and ask us to approve a rule that we already rejected when you had the unmitigated gall to put 3,300 people on a program that you ask us to approve that we did not approve? Why are we here?”

“To have an open forum, to hear comment, to participate, to try to make sure that we’re implementing, to listen to concerns,” replied Tamara Hoffman, chief of staff for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

The legislation proposed by the two House Democrats would do exactly the same thing to cover 147,000 more adults. The difference is that it would require the full General Assembly to approve the money allocated to the program every single year, allowing them to adjust for budget shortfalls.

“If it’s going to happen, this is how it should happen,” said Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat sponsoring the measure with fellow Democratic Rep. David Miller of Lynwood, in a Statehouse news conference.

Both said they hope legislative hearings would be more successful in getting answers from the administration. Hearings could vet out the details so the full General Assembly, rather than a 12-member panel, could decide whom to cover, at what level to cover them and how to pay for it in the long run. “Going through the legislative process I think empowers the voters,” Miller said. He added that maybe 400 percent of the federal poverty level isn’t the threshold. Maybe it’s less, but that’s what the hearings would aim to figure out.

Fritchey added that the legislation could buffer 3,300 new enrollees, a number given by the administration today. Those people potentially could lose FamilyCare benefits if a judge rules that the governor violated his constitutional authority to expand a health care program without legislative approval. Read background of the lawsuit filed against the administration here. If a judge did rule against the administration, however, Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican and JCAR member, said it’s more likely that the Department of Healthcare and Family Services wouldn’t kick anyone off of the health insurance program; it simply would eat the cost and make up for it elsewhere. Hoffman said the department won't speculate about what would happen if the lawsuit overturns the administration’s authority to expand the program.

Department officials also said it has the money in its current budget to cover the expansions, but they didn’t specify. The General Assembly never approved spending authority specifically to cover the expanded health care programs. Department heads left without answering questions after the vote.

Eight JCAR members rejected the administration’s rule. Two Republican members went against the grain. Mulligan and Rep. Brent Hassert of Romeoville said they’re not happy with the administration’s lack of answers and don’t believe it has the money to cover the expansions, but they do believe the department has the authority to do expand FamilyCare. That’s because, Mulligan said, the General Assembly approved that authority in 2006. Hassert added that the JCAR hearings on the governor’s health care plans are symptomatic of the ongoing game of politics between the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan.


The possibilty of seventeen-year olds voting

* Representative Lou Lang's proposed Illinois Constitutional Amendment, HJRCA0029, was discussed at the Ethics and Campaign Reform Committee today. There was a considerable amount of press there, seeing as how this has ground-breaking potential if it hits the House floor for a vote. The proposal did in fact pass 5 to 3.

* The details of the proposal are still fuzzy, but if in fact enacted Illinois will be the first state in the Union to allow 17 year olds the right to vote in a general election. Rep. Lang said that he believes the issue to be especially relevant with arrival of the information age:

"Some seventeen-year olds are more knowledgeable about politics than many sixty-year olds who only vote on the last sound-byte that they hear."

* There are currently eleven states that allow seventeen-year olds to vote in the primary election if they will be eligible by the general election, but none that allow them to vote in the general if they are not eighteen.

Representative McCarthy got a round of laughter from the room when he added:

"Representative Lang, I know people from your generation had to wait until they were twenty-one."

* The discussion mostly hinged around the difficulty of having a hypothetical separate ballot for seventeen-year olds, since they would not be allowed to vote for federal candidates unless the U.S. Constitution was also amended. Some representatives feared the added costs of creating such a system, or the bureaucratic nightmares that could follow.

It is hard to speculate as to the chances of Rep. Lang's bill passing in the future, especially with so many unanswered questions surrounding the idea. But there is a strong likelihood that even if the bill does not pass Illinois could become the 12th state to allow seventeen-year olds who aren't eighteen by the primary but will be in the general, the right to vote. Representative McCarthy hinted as to the likelihood of support for a compromise like this, even though he voted "no" because of his constituency's objections. Only time will tell, but with the recent surge of young participation in the Illinois primary, the iron definitely seems hot to strike.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Adeline Geo-Karis: Role Model and Cautionary Tale

With the passing of former State Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis of Zion a few weeks ago a host of glowing tributes were offered to that pioneering woman. Though well-deserved, Geo-Karis’ story was a lot more complicated than the tributes indicated. If Geo-Karis showed the way for many Republican leaders, particularly women, she also became an object lesson in how not to pass on the torch without damaging a life’s work.

I was in high school when she was first elected to the Illinois Legislature. Right from the start she cast a large shadow in politics in Lake County. In the late 70’s a couple friends of mine and I took an extended trip meandering about the country. It was a marvelous experience, but for all the adventure involved, one still gets a little homesick. One crisp fall night we were all feeling a bit melancholy, wandering the streets of Bar Harbor, Maine. Coming around a corner we were startled to see an old Buick plastered with stickers urging us to re-elect Adeline Geo-Karis. “Good God, the woman’s everywhere,” one friend exclaimed as we all busted out in laughter. It was the secret to her success.

As she rose Geo (as everyone called her) served as mentor to a whole generation of politicians and activists in Lake County. From the mid-80’s through the early 90’s I was one of them. I drove her around, wrote some one-liners for her and plotted strategy with her. Traveling with her was astonishing. We would hit a couple of events – and that would be the shortest part of the day. She knew about every funeral, every christening, every wedding and every bar mitzvah that went on in her district. We would stop by unannounced at three to seven such events every time I accompanied her. There was no room for any sort of life beyond politics for her. It was an electoral strength, but I began to think the woman was terribly lonely sometimes, even amidst the crowds in which she was the constant center of attention.

There was a joke in those days that the most dangerous place to be was between Geo and a microphone or a TV camera. During the Bears great Super Bowl season, we even joked that the real test for the offensive line would be to try to block her out from a public microphone. I benefitted from that trait in 1988 as Ronald Reagan was making his valedictory tour around the country. He threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game and gave a speech that evening at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Geo asked me if I wanted to take her there. Gosh, the chance to listen to Reagan at the end of his great presidency; that was a no-brainer. When we arrived, Geo had ordinary tickets. But she was Geo and bulled her way right to the front row, dead center. So I got to watch and hear Reagan from a distance of 15 yards.

Geo was not particularly ideologically motivated; constituent service was her hallmark. She was very good at it, doggedly working to solve any problem a constituent brought her. In her heyday, she was the one I would go to when anyone brought me a problem they were having with government. Whether they were in her district or not she would almost always get action – and always cared to make it happen. She had no family of her own. In a very real way, the people she served became her surrogate family.

Sometime in the early to mid-90’s something began to change. Geo did become far more ideologically driven on certain matters. One evening we went to dinner after a series of events and she told me earnestly that the party had to get off this pro-life stuff. I was a bit taken aback and told her that for many of us, including me, it was a key principle and one of the main reasons we were Republican. She told me it was a loser and we really needed to drop it. I don’t know who was more shocked; me, to hear her say this or her, to hear me say I would cease to be a Republican before I would cease to be pro-life. From that time on I don’t think I ever saw her without her earnestly trying to convince me to drop the pro-life business. It was the classic divide in politics: some choose issues to advance their party while others choose their party to advance their issues. Both are a little bewildered by the other.

Without adopting the fringe politics of the feminist movement, Geo became very decidedly feminist in political practice. She began to reflexively support any woman running against any man, while candidly saying she thought we needed more women in office. It was the one form of identity politics she unabashedly supported. Some of her old alliances became strained, even broken as it continued. Former Illinois House Majority Leader Bob Churchill had been one of her closest protégés as he rose in politics. I never knew exactly what happened, but the relationship between them did not just get strained, it got broken. Though a dramatic break, it was not an aberration. It was symptomatic of an undercurrent that was developing between Geo and a lot of her old comrades.

For much of her career Geo was a pioneer, storming the barricades of country club Republicanism. She was the first woman this, the first woman that…so many firsts you couldn’t keep up with it all. She was the pride of the very large Greek community in Lake County. If you ever spend time there and note that there are quite a lot of Greek office-holders and judges, Geo had a lot to do with it. In the 70’s, 80’s and into the early 90’s she played a huge role in building the Republican Party and bringing in a host of new people who had either not been in before or, despite great talent, had been shut out.

Throughout her career her constituents adored her. Heaven knows, she had danced at most of their weddings, mourned at their funerals, prayed at their baptisms – she was one of the family for almost every family in Lake County. My own children still speak of her as Auntie Geo. But the tensions from internal feuds began taking their toll in the last 15 years. Though the feuds rarely entered into public view, more and more frequently colleagues and Geo found themselves working at cross purposes in muffled battles over both issues and political predominance. Some became irritated at what they considered a sense of entitlement growing in her. They would complain that Geo more frequently expected people to do things her way because it was she who wanted it rather than to advocate on the merits.

As illness and age took their toll, many political leaders began worrying that her Senate seat was beginning to look vulnerable. When longtime Congressman Phil Crane was unexpectedly toppled by Melissa Bean in 2004, local leaders sat up and took notice. Crane had been a local hero in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. But his seat got progressively more vulnerable as he stayed on long past the period when he had had impact. Many Republicans began to fear that in Geo, they had a Crane scenario in the making if they didn’t do something. They feared, though, that Geo wouldn’t have it. It was a terrible irony: she who had successfully stormed so many barricades in building the Republican Party was now considered to be the main barricade by many who sought to continue that work.

But Geo surprised them. She, too, understood the toll that age and illness was taking. She had groomed a longtime protégé, Warren Twp. Supervisor Sue Simpson to replace her and was clearing the field for Simpson. Many insiders breathed a deep sigh of relief. Lake County Dem. Chairman and State Sen. Terry Link was obviously targeting that seat. Few, even among those who loved Geo best, believed the seat could be held under sustained assault if Geo were to run again. In public she often nodded off, traveled with an oxygen tank in tow, and more than occasionally lost track of what the subject at hand was in public debate. The best hope to retain the seat was to have a younger, vigorous successor supported by Geo. Everyone believed that was what had happened.

Something went wrong, though. Somewhere along the line Geo decided it was not time to move on, after all. But her designated successor, Sue Simpson, did not bow out. After spending several decades as Geo’s protégé, Simpson was now treated as her bitterest enemy. A deep, new feud burst into public view. An already divided Republican Party in Lake County became even more divided as good people settled on either Geo or Simpson. I will confess that I thought Geo was going to win the primary going away, that her surrogate family was going to give her one more tour of duty. It didn’t happen that way. Though her constituents still loved her, they sent her the painful message as gently as they could – that they loved her but it was time. Geo was hurt. Sadly, the pain of rejection morphed into a bitter repudiation of all that she had stood for in her long career. She, who stormed the barricades, who expanded and grew the party, who put service first, now threw her support to the Democrat, Michael Bond, doing everything she could to defeat her old protégé, Simpson, and, in the process, shrink and divide the local party she had done so much to grow and unite. While her old constituents had told her it was time to go, they still loved her and honored her by making the Democrat she supported into their new state senator.

There are still some Republicans in Lake County who bear each other ill will because of that bitter election. Those who loyally supported Geo to the end did not act dishonorably. Those who thought it time to move on did not, either. Most likely the only way the seat could have been held was with a successor who had her support. It was an impossible situation for Republican leaders.

I loved and admired Geo. The first 20 years of her career serve as a real lesson in how to build and grow a strong organization. The last few serve as a cautionary tale to leaders on how easy it is to damage what they have spent a lifetime building. She was an archetype of politician as noble servant to her constituents. May all remember that as her enduring legacy – and remember that when it ceases to be about service and begins to be about entitlement, it is time to move on, lest you mar the best work of your own hands.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chicago is Barack Obama's kind of town

A pretty good article from this past January about the political environment that allows black politicians to move ahead in the system. This article from says that if Sen. Obama had stayed in New York no one would have heard from him. He might have won an office but we may not have gone beyond for example, the New York State Assembly. I suppose a question to ask here is what would account for this? Why would Obama have never been heard from had he stayed in New York or also California or Hawaii?

Here's an excerpt. There is a lot about black history in Chicago. From Republican Oscar DePriest who was during the early 20th Century the only black man in Congress to William Dawson who operated a mostly black political machine until he was co-opted by the first Mayor Daley, or even some of the other black politicians of today including Harold Washington, Carol Moseley Braun or Sen. Obama himself...

For the hundreds of thousands of poor Southern blacks who made the trek north in the early 20th century, Chicago was literally known as the promised land. It promised prosperity, relative freedom -- and also, incredibly, political power. When the sharecroppers of Alabama and Mississippi passed around copies of the nation's biggest black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, in the 1920s and '30s, they read about a city with something unheard of in the rest of America: a black representative in the U.S. House. Oscar S. De Priest was a Republican, loyal to the party of Lincoln, and as the lone black man in Congress, he ended discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps, filed anti-lynching bills, and integrated the Senate Dining Room, over the physical objections of an Alabama senator.

De Priest was defeated in 1934, after the New Deal converted blacks to the Democratic faith, but his seat has remained in African-American hands ever since. It's currently held by Bobby Rush, a former minister of defense for the Black Panther Party.

When Barack Obama was 22 years old, just out of Columbia University, he took a $10,000-a-year job as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. It was a shrewd move for a young black man with an interest in politics. Had he stayed in New York, "you would never have heard of him," says Lou Ransom, the Defender's current executive editor. "He may have been a very good lawyer and maybe got elected to some office, but if he hadn't come to Chicago, he would not have had the kind of support to push him where he is now."

His home state of Hawaii is more diverse, the California of his early college days is more tolerant, New York is more sophisticated. But only in Illinois could Obama have become a senator and a presidential candidate. Going all the way back to Oscar De Priest (and in some ways to Abraham Lincoln), Illinois has led the nation in black political empowerment. It has elected two of the three black senators since Reconstruction -- Obama and Carol Moseley Braun. It's had a black attorney general, and its black secretary of state is setting a new standard for that office by not taking bribes (or at least not getting caught). The only other black candidate to win a presidential primary was Jesse Jackson, who came to Chicago from the South as a seminary student and stuck around to build his own political machine.

Ironically, Chicago became the political capital of black America because it was so racist. For most of the 20th century, it was the most segregated city in America. Blacks used to have a saying: "In the South, the white man doesn't care how close you get, as long as you don't get too high; in the North, he doesn't care how high you get, as long as you don't get too close." During the Great Migration, the refugees who rode up from Mississippi on the Illinois Central Railroad were crowded into the Black Belt, the South Side ghetto portrayed in Richard Wright's "Native Son." Because the black population was so concentrated, white politicians couldn't gerrymander it out of a congressional seat. One of De Priest's successors, William Dawson, was the most powerful black politician in America. He helped boot out the predecessor to Mayor Richard J. Daley, the current mayor's father, who bossed Chicago from 1955 to 1976. In return, Daley's machine rewarded Dawson with control of the entire South Side.
Consider this Illinoize's only black history month entry for this year!

Oh BTW, the book An Autobiography of Black Politics written by Chicago real estate developer Dempsey J. Travis is a good book to look at the history black politics in Chicago. It starts with the founder of Chicago Jean Baptist Pointe du Sable some black politicians during the 19th century then the developments over the 20th Century and ultimately concludes with the election as mayor of Harold Washington in 1983. You should check it if it's of your interest especially if it's available at your local bookstore or at


Friday, February 22, 2008


Last week, I reported about revenue ideas, specifically mentioning an income tax increase. Thanks to commenters, I realize the need to clarify two things:

First, such business groups as the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago said last year they could swallow a state income tax increase if Illinois also — or first — enacted reforms to control such costs as public employee pensions and retiree health care benefits. In last week's post, I mentioned the portion about the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois willing to support an income tax increase but did not mention the other side of the equation – its belief in the need to take steps to address the structural deficit. See David Eldridge's comments at the bottom of this post. (I also wrote about both sides of the equation last spring.) And more background can be found in the Civic Committee's full December 2006 report that suggests raising money by increasing income taxes and expanding sales taxes while also cutting costs and reforming the education funding system.

Second, both groups recommended increasing the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent, which is not the same thing as a 1 percent increase. See Cal Skinner's comment at the bottom of this post. (More context: The Civic Committee's report also recommended increasing the corporate income tax rate from 4.8 percent to 6.4 percent and expanding the state sales tax to apply to consumer services.)

Be specific, please
State legislators would have to be more specific in the state budget when they requested money for projects within their districts under a measure that sailed out of the House today. They would have to spell out who requested the money, what it's for and whom it would benefit. Sponsor Rep. Patricia Reid Lindner, an Aurora Republican, called it a good government measure aimed to make the budget-making process more transparent, as opposed to the common practice of slipping in vague descriptions of rather hefty grants for local projects, a.k.a. pork.

The measure received 99 supporting votes and one in opposition, but a few members voiced concerns about whether the rules would actually work as intended. Rep. David Leitch, a Peoria Republican, was the lone “no” vote because the requirement could draw out the process if simple errors were made in the state budget, he said. For instance, a drafting error prevented the state from awarding a grant to a cancer center in his district even though it had received legislative approval. “You're absolutely correct. We should provide a description. We should provide transparency. But this would be a very impractical way to accomplish your worthwhile goal.”

The measure now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers predict it will have a tougher time getting approved.


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